Nebraska fires Solich despite 9-3 record

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 1, 2003

A nine-win season, a desirable bowl bid and a clean program weren't enough for Frank Solich to keep his job.

A championship - either Big 12 or national - was probably the only thing that could have saved the job of the man who never lived up to the lofty standards set by his predecessor at Nebraska, Tom Osborne.

Solich was fired Saturday despite a 9-3 season and a 58-19 career mark. He had three more wins in his first six seasons than the revered Osborne, yet it still wasn't enough.

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''This decision was not an easy one, and I'm certain with a 9-3 season there will be questions,'' athletic director Steve Pederson said Sunday.

''I understand we aren't going to win the championship every year, but I believe we should be playing for or gaining on the championship on a consistent basis.''

Pederson is right. The questions are certain to come when a coach gets fired two years after playing in the national championship game. Solich won one conference title and two Big 12 coach of the year awards - a resume many coaches would be proud to have.

''When you win nine football games no matter what program you're at, that's a pretty successful season,'' LSU coach Nick Saban said. ''Frank is a class coach and guy. You hate to see that happen in this profession but you know what you're getting into in this age. It's a high-profile deal and if you don't get the results people expect no matter how high the standards are, you can lose your job.''

This wasn't a case of George O'Leary lying on his resume, Rick Neuheisel betting in an NCAA tournament pool or Mike Price allegedly partying with strippers.

By all accounts, Solich ran a clean program free of NCAA investigations and the scandals that have befallen many coaches.

''I think in an ideal world that would matter, but we're not playing Division I-A football in an ideal world,'' said Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. ''We're playing in a world with too much money and national exposure involved.''

Solich's biggest problem was not being Bob Stoops. Stoops has rebuilt Oklahoma into a national powerhouse, leaving the rest of the Big 12 scrambling to catch up.

Not matching up with Oklahoma was also a problem for Osborne. He lost his first five games against Barry Switzer's Sooners and didn't grow into a legend until winning at least a share of the national title in three of his final four seasons.

But the standards have changed since Osborne started his career. In this era of Internet rumors and chat rooms and impatient alumni and administrators, coaching security is an oxymoron.

''Unfortunately, all the focus is on winning,'' Saban said. ''But as a coach you can impact young people a lot in terms of getting an education and enhancing their chances of launching a career when they leave the program. I know Frank stands for that.''

Ten Division I-A coaches are already out of work this season, ranging from big-time programs like Nebraska, Arizona and Mississippi State to perennial also-rans like Eastern Michigan, Idaho and Akron.

Even a legend like Joe Paterno has been under fire at Penn State this year after posting his third losing season in four years.

''For me the most important thing here is not that the coach has been let go,'' Lapchick said. ''But when they are looking to hire a new coach, what was his graduation rate at his previous school or did he have problems of discipline. Are they looking to change their pattern or avoid a bad one.''

Another factor to look for in these coaching searches is how many minorities will get a chance. There are only four black coaches in Division I-A - half the number from eight years ago.

Green Bay Packers assistant Sylvester Croom was offered the head job at Mississippi State and would become the first black coach in the history of the SEC.

Croom lost out on a chance this year to get a job at his alma mater, Alabama, generating a lot of focus on the SEC's status as the only major conference never to have a black coach.

''At the same time the scrutiny on the SEC has allowed for a lack of scrutiny elsewhere,'' Lapchick said.

''In all these hiring situations there is an opportunity to look for the best person. I have to believe that if there are nine openings that three or four of the top nine coaches available in the country are African American. Certainly that won't translate into three or four hires.''